Technology Changing Outcomes in Education

An article in the August issue of Wired magazine about the Khan Academy and how it is changing the rules of education prompted me to write.  Back in 2006 when my neighbor’s son was a middle school student at McDonogh School, I heard his mother describe how the math teachers at McDonogh had created math instructional videos for the students to use to grasp mathematical concepts.  The part that resonated with me was her statement that her son would review the videos from their home computer as many times as necessary to grasp the topic before submitting homework or taking exams.  Although I was a good math student in high school, I remembered the experience of learning new concepts where I would either see the teacher or another student after class in order to better comprehend the methodology for solving the question.  The videos being used by my neighbor’s son substituted for the after class or after school in person tutorials I used to seek out. 

Since APUS courses are offered wholly online with no time for face-to-face instruction, we developed a number of math instructional videos using Camtasia tablet software and embedded them in our classrooms to supplement the instructional materials.  Later, we decided to make our math videos available to everyone on our American Public University iTunesU site  and our APUS Youtube channel.  Comments to the individual videos, primarily in the form of thank you’s, demonstrate the usefulness and the need for technology like this.  More recently, we partnered with McDonogh School to establish a website, www.campusmath.com, to offer primarily math videos to the public for an elementary school through high school curriculum.  While I can’t speak on behalf of McDonogh School, I think that both of our institutions are aligned with the belief that math skills need to be improved and providing access to these videos to teachers, students, and parents may contribute to improved skills without providing the teachers and professors inside of a physical or electronic classroom.

The article about the Khan Academy in Wired mentions a teacher at Santa Rita Elementary in California who uses the videos from the Khan Academy to replace some of her lectures and then spends more time in class working on problem sets.  Teachers using the Khan Academy videos and problem sets have access to a dashboard that lets them see exactly where the student is stuck on a particular concept or problem.  Increasing the amount of time spent in class solving problem sets provides the teacher with more one-on-one time with the students who need assistance.  Contributing Editor Clive Thompson mentions the 1984 Benjamin Bloom metastudy that measured the effectiveness of one-on-one tutoring versus general classroom instruction (two standard deviations more effective for one-on-one instruction).  Obviously, schools cannot afford to teach everyone one-on-one but technology is capable of assisting teachers and students to improve learning outcomes.  What prompted Khan to record his videos was the discovery that viewing videos over and over again in private is less embarrassing for the student than admitting in a one-on-one session that they still don’t understand the material.  Judging from the comments posted by students on our Youtube videos, Khan’s discovery is on track.

Based on the increasing frequency of its use in the classroom, technology continues to advance at a pace faster than the implementation capabilities of many of America’s K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.  At the same time, there are a number of educational innovators who are willing to experiment.  As Clayton Christensen points out in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, technology will ultimately provide educators with the ability to teach students with multiple learning modalities the intended lessons without impeding the highly talented individuals from learning more.  It is my hope that few institutions and regulators impede the innovation process.  (To read my review of Christensen’s Disrupting Class, see my August 2008 blog article.)

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